Victims' bodies lay in the streets of the city, Tacloban, one of the hardest hit by the storm, Capt. John Andrews, the authority's deputy director general, told The Associated Press.
Although the storm had knocked out power and most communications, Captain Andrews said, his staff relayed news of the deaths. "The information is reliable," he told the news service.
Haiyan, experts say, is the one of the most powerful winds ever in the world. But because it moved across the country so rapidly, it may not have killed as many people as feared. Experts say that is because it did not linger long enough to deluge the islands with rain that can cause the widespread flooding and mudslides that often lead to very high death tolls. Tacloban, however, was flooded heavily, reported The New York Times.
The storm moved across the country around 40 km per hour, roughly twice as fast as Typhoon Bopha, which killed more than a thousand people last year, experts said.
Still, as rescuers make their way to isolated areas and communications are restored, the death toll could rise significantly. Damage was expected to be extensive, in part because many structures in poorer regions are not well built.
The typhoon slammed into the island of Samar, on the eastern edge of the Philippines, early Friday morning and sped across the islands in the center of the country. Photos showed crumpled wooden buildings, high waves slamming into the shore and, in some cases, people emerging from their houses to find coconuts strewn all over the streets.
There were grave concerns before the storm hit because the estimated wind speeds over the ocean indicated that it could have a devastating impact on land.
More than 700,000 people evacuated their homes
The alarm may have been advantageous. More than 700,000 people evacuated their homes, according to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council. Many were housed in evacuation centers, which could limit the death toll.
"People were prepared for this one," said Rene Paciente, a forecaster with the Philippine government's national weather agency. "They were given notice, and they were evacuated."
In a nationally televised address, President Benigno S. Aquino III had told Filipinos to prepare for the worst. "Let us evacuate our homes if we are in danger zones," he said.
Local radio and television stations reported downed power lines, impassible roads and flooding in some areas caused by surging ocean water.
Before the typhoon made landfall, some international forecasters were estimating wind speeds at 195 m.p.h., which would have meant the storm would hit with winds among the strongest recorded. But local forecasters later disputed those estimates. "Some of the reports of wind speeds were exaggerated," Mr. Paciente said.
The Philippine weather agency measured winds on the eastern edge of the country at about 150 m.p.h., he said, with some tracking stations recording speeds as low as 100 m.p.h.
The United States Navy's Joint Typhoon Warning Center used satellite analysis to estimate sustained winds at 195 m.p.h., with gusts up to 235 m.p.h., but that measured the center of the storm when it was over the ocean.
"As far as satellite imagery was concerned, it indicated that this was one of the strongest storms on record," said Roger Edson, the science and operations officer at the United States National Weather Service in Guam.
He said 195 m.p.h. winds would put the storm "off the charts," but he acknowledged that satellite estimates require further study on the ground to determine if they were accurate.
By Saturday, the storm had left the Philippines, on a path to Vietnam, according to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center in Honolulu.
(With agency inputs)